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Stimulation May Help Gait in Parkinson's Patients

Electrical pulses triggered by walking improves parameters of gait in study subjects

THURSDAY, June 5 (HealthDay News) -- Functional electrical stimulation can improve some gait-related measurements and reduce falls in patients with Parkinson's disease, with some lasting benefits after discontinuation of use, according to research published in Neuromodulation in April.

Geraldine E. Mann, of the Salisbury Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust in Salisbury, Wiltshire, U.K., and colleagues analyzed data from seven patients with idiopathic Parkinson's disease. Subjects wore a battery-operated device on the more severely affected side, with a pressure-sensitive switch in the shoe that administered electrical pulses during the walking swing phase through electrodes positioned over the head of the fibula and motor point of the tibialis anterior muscle.

Subjects showed immediate improvement on distance and stride length during a three-minute walk, and falls and episodes of freezing decreased during the eight-week treatment period, the researchers report. A training effect across a number of gait parameters seen during the treatment period was generally maintained four weeks after this period.

"The neurophysiologic mechanisms for the improvements found in this study are unknown and need further investigation for the effects of stimulation to be understood. Electrical stimulation causes both movement and sensory feedback and, therefore, focuses the user's attention on gait. It would be useful to know whether effects are due to the sensation of the stimulation alone, the motor response produced, or a combination of the two factors. Stimulation of the common peroneal nerve was chosen to improve heel strike, which is impaired in the shuffling gait often seen in people with Parkinson's disease," the authors write.

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